April 14, 2024

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B.C. Medical Services Commission and Telus Health reach agreement


The B.C. Medical Services Commission and Telus Health have reached an agreement, after the commission went looking for an injunction over alleged contraventions of the Medicare Protection Act.


Health Minister Adrian Dix announced the deal on Wednesday.


“To ensure compliance going forward, Telus will no longer offer physician services to new clients through its LifePlus program,” Dix said.


Dix said Telus will separate the services that can be charged back to the Medical Services Plan from the LifePlus program. That means those who have paid for the program already will no longer have access to physician services through LifePlus, but rather through Telus Health. In that way, they will maintain access to a family doctor.


In a statement, Juggy Sihota, chief growth officer for Telus Health, said the two parties had come to an agreement.


“This agreement will see the MSC withdrawing its petition against LifePlus and Telus Health modifying some of the program’s operational processes over time to ensure a clearer delineation between insured and uninsured care delivery while maintaining continuity of care for its clients,” the statement reads.


In February 2022, the Medical Services Commission began investigating Telus’ fee-based LifePlus program. In December 2022, the commission sought an injunction against Telus Health.


At that time, Sihota denied any wrongdoing.


“The LifePlus program is a small, preventative service,” said Sihota at the time.


“We do not charge for primary care services with our LifePlus service. Our fee is preventative health, uninsured services like dieticians, kinesiologist, health and wellness services.”


The commission asked for an injunction, alleging Telus charged for services covered under MSP. It’s unclear if the company is accepting that argument under the terms of the agreement.


When asked if Telus would need to pay a fine, Dix emphasized the deal focuses on making modifications to the program.


“It’s not about punishing people,” Dix said. “We’re not going to send a whole bunch of people, take away their family doctor when they’re getting physician services that are covered under the Medicare Protection Act in our health-care system.”


The Green Party of B.C. first raised the issue of the Telus program in February 2022 in the legislature. Saanich MLA Adam Olsen said Wednesday that he was flabbergasted Telus won’t face a financial penalty.


“We’ve seen this privatized health-care system under the NDP continue to grow despite their rhetoric (that) they support accessible equitable universal health care, so (we’re) really surprised to see there aren’t any penalties,” Olsen said.


Dix said he was delighted with the agreement because the LifePlus program has been brought into compliance with Medicare Protection Act.


In a statement, the Medical Services Commission put other organizations with similar fee-for-service models on notice.


“This settlement should serve as an indicator to others who may be offering expensive, patient-funded health-care programs – that are charging for access, or priority access, to medically necessary health care – will be investigated.”


As for the bigger problem of connecting people with family doctors, Dix promises a new rostering system will be up and running in July. The first priority, he said, is to connect those with the greatest need to a service provider. Given an estimated one million British Columbians are without a family doctor, that could take a while.